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Fresco depicting two lares pouring wine from a drinking horn (rhyton) into a bucket (situla), they stand on either side of a scene of sacrifice, beneath a pair of serpents bringers of prosperity and abondance, Pompeii, Naples Archaeological Museum

6,000-Year-Old Cave Find Shows Sicilians Made Wine Way Before Previously Thought

Researchers have found traces of wine in Sicily dating back to the 4th millennium BC. According to experts, that could mean that Italians have been making and drinking wine for much longer than previously believed.

Oldest Italian Wine Found

A group of scientists led by Dr. Davide Tanasi from the University of South Florida, analyzed a small amount of remaining wine on an ancient jar found in a cave in Sicily. The results showed traces of tartaric acid and its sodium salt, which occur in grapes and the wine-making process, meaning that the region’s wine production possibly began in the early fourth millennium BC as The Guardian reports .

The jars found in a Sicilian cave were found to have small traces of wine residue

The jars found in a Sicilian cave were found to have small traces of wine residue. (Image: Dr. Davide Tanasi, University of South Florida )

The finding, published in Microchemical Journal , is considered extremely important as it’s the earliest discovery of wine residue in the entire prehistory of the Italian peninsula. In other words, the discovery could reshape the history of winemaking in Italy, since previous recovery of seeds and samples made archaeologists (falsely) believe that winemaking developed in Italy during the Middle Bronze Age, around 1300-1100BC.

“Unlike earlier discoveries that were limited to vines and so showed only that grapes were being grown, our work has resulted in the identification of a wine residue,” Dr. Tanasi tells The Guardian . He continues, “That obviously involves not just the practice of viticulture but the production of actual wine – and during a much earlier period.”

The jars were found in a cave near Monte Kronio, Agrigento, Sicily

The jars were found in a cave near Monte Kronio, Agrigento, Sicily ( ConsorzioTouristicodeiTempli)

Still not the Oldest Wine in Europe’s History?

The newly found Copper Age containers may contained traces of 6,000 years old wine, making it the oldest known Italian wine, but is it the oldest wine in Europe’s history? Not likely. As previously reported in an Ancient Origins article , archaeologists excavating a prehistoric settlement site in northern Greece in 2013, completed analyses of wine samples from ancient ceramics revealing evidence of wine dating back to 4200 BC, which makes it still the oldest known sample of wine in Europe.

This sample was located at an ancient settlement known as Dikili Tash, 1.2 miles from the ancient city of Philippi and has been inhabited since 6500 BC. Not much is known about the people who lived at Dikili Tash during these periods as of yet, so the 2013 findings offered some insight into these ancient people, although the societal changes that may have been influenced by the consumption of alcohol is still an issue of debate.

"Mosaic of the cupbearers", from the 2nd century AD. J.-C., from Dougga, in the National Museum of Bardo, Tunisia

"Mosaic of the cupbearers", from the 2nd century AD. J.-C., from Dougga, in the National Museum of Bardo, Tunisia ( CC BY 3.0 )

"The find is highly significant for the European prehistory, because it is for the moment the oldest indication for vinification in Europe," said Dimitra Malamidou, co-director of the 2013 excavation at the site. "The historical meaning of our discovery is important for the Aegean and the European prehistory, as it gives evidence of early developments of the agricultural and diet practices, affecting social processes," she added.

Wine boy at a Greek symposium. He uses an oinochoe (wine jug, in his right hand) to draw wine from a crater, in order to fill a kylix (shallow cup, in his left hand). Tondo of an Attic red-figure cup, ca. 490-480 BC.

Wine boy at a Greek symposium. He uses an oinochoe (wine jug, in his right hand) to draw wine from a crater, in order to fill a kylix (shallow cup, in his left hand). Tondo of an Attic red-figure cup, ca. 490-480 BC. (Public Domain )

It is believed that the wine traces in Dikili Tash represent the oldest known traces of wine drinking in Europe. Previous studies have unearthed a 6,100-year-old Armenian winery, and beyond Europe, scientists have found traces of a 9,000-year-old Chinese alcohol made from rice, honey and fruit.

New Find Sheds Light on Vinification in Ancient Sicily

From the so far findings, the team of researchers conducting the study has managed to understand how the ancient Italians were using the pottery jar and what they were drinking almost 6,000 years ago, “The goal was that to shed new light on the use of certain ceramic shapes and infer some hypothesis about ancient dietary habits,” they write as IBTimes reported . And add, “Insights into the diets of early societies can be gained, indirectly, from the cultural evidence of artifacts related to food procurement, preparation and consumption, and [from] human skeletal remains.”

However, scientists suggest that more direct proof for dietary habits derived from the distinguishing of intact plant and animal remains collected during the excavations but also from the analysis of the amorphous remains of foodstuff associated with artifacts.  

Wine Could be an Offering to Gods According to Experts

Ultimately, Dr. Tanasi told CNN that the wine may have been left in the cave as an offering to underground deities. “The cave site of Monte Kronio is also a cult place used for religious practices from prehistory to Classical times,” Tanasi said. And added, “This discovery has important archaeological and historical implications.”

The next step for his team is to find out whether the wine was red or white, according to Dr. Tanasi’s statement.

Top image: Fresco depicting two lares pouring wine from a drinking horn (rhyton) into a bucket (situla), they stand on either side of a scene of sacrifice, beneath a pair of serpents bringers of prosperity and abondance, Pompeii, Naples Archaeological Museum ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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